What separates the sane from insane, the rational from irrational?
Reality is a State of Mind
What separates the sane from insane, the rational from irrational?
I'm not a psychologist in real life. I only play one on WDC-TV. The preceding is a play on an old quote that I use here to illustrate the fact that I have no real creds--other than life experience--in support of the following comments, accusations, and judgments made with respect to others' states-of-mind. This is my only disclaimer as regards the subsequent monologue.
Albert Einstein was quoted as defining insanity as the act of doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. By comparison, a justice of the Supreme Court once stated--and I paraphrase--that while he couldn't define obscenity, he knew it when he saw it.
In this and similar veins, I'm at an age where I don't claim an ability to define irrationality, let alone insanity, as the terms pertain to specific individuals. Definitions are, by their very nature, intended to be used by writers and speakers as a form of universal interpretation. I am therefore not so arrogant, or irrational, that I should then instruct others as to the meaning of such words as sane or rational--or the antonyms of same.
That said, however, I possess a certain confidence with respect my ability to discriminate among the things I read, the images I see, and the people I meet. That I can discern mediocrity from excellence, for instance, is something that makes my life sweeter and richer. Moreover, an aptitude for distinguishing between rational and irrational thinking, is also a personal attribute with which I take great pride.
Just to be clear, here are the dictionary definitions of the terms in question:
Mentally healthy; free from mental disorder.
Marked by sound judgment.
Afflicted with or characteristic of mental derangement.
Consistent with or based on the use of reason.
Having its source in, or being guided by, the intellect (as distinguished from experience or emotion).
Not consistent with the use of reason.
I would humbly emphasize as part of the preceding definitions, the ability to detect in others, levels or degrees of insanity and irrationality. Such assessments rightfully exist on a sliding scale that ranges from mild to severe. Or from barely perceptible to disturbingly obvious--even frightening or potentially dangerous.
In like fashion, I doubt that any of us are, by definition, free from one or more mental disorders, in one form or another--to one degree or another. Allow me to be the first to confess that, in my specific case, I suffer from a long list of neurotic tics and twitches, the exact number of which I'd prefer not to disclose. I'm probably not even aware of them all. What I will submit, however, is that I have yet to meet someone--and get to know them to some extent--who did not at some point, exhibit what I would consider to be irrational thoughts, ideas, and/or beliefs.
Far fewer in number, but still among my personal acquaintances, are those whom I would judge as being clinically or pathologically insane. Not necessarily a danger to themselves or others, but folks who have crossed a blurry line and gone from being acutely neurotic, to frenetically psychotic. All of them, including myself, positioned on a wide spectrum of varying shades of gray.
For the purposes of this essay, I am largely concerned with those individuals who appear to live on the fringes--who clearly live in black or white worlds much different from those with which most of us are familiar. It is to these wandering, witless souls, that this treatise is respectfully dedicated.
There's an old saying that you might hear still being used from time to time. To wit "The pot calling the kettle black." It's a nice way of calling someone a hypocrite when we tell them, "What you said is like the pot calling a kettle black." What is referenced, of course, is the idea that pots and kettles are much the same, and both are blackened from usage. So when we accuse someone accordingly, we're saying, in essence, that the person shares the same degree of blame or guilt as the one they themselves are criticizing.
For example, if I said that I thought someone possessed a neurotic fear of snakes, yet it was known that I feared spiders, a polite way of saying I was a big fat hypocrite would be, "Aren't you acting like a pot calling the kettle black?"
Thus when I say that, in the year since I've been a member of WdC, I've come across an inordinate number of individuals whom I consider to be certifiably and undeniably out of their ever-lovin' minds, it is understood that this may well be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I get it.
That said, such people have got me to wondering what distinguishes great poetry from gibberish, fine literature from the unintelligible ramblings of a gentle maniac. I've found that sometimes the differences are subtle and not always obvious. Sometimes a person's neurosis--or pathological incoherency--remains hidden until provoked by a specific set of circumstances. At other times, no attempt is made to overtly disguise what is either a genuine disease at work, or some form of brain damage that manifests itself as wild irrationality. Often in the additional guise of superficial comprehensibility.
While I'm on the subject, it's seems apropos that I briefly mention a separate category of oddly peculiar individuals. These are people, the nicest of folks in most instances, who appear overtly rational. Who, under most circumstances, likely show little or no indication that their grip on reality is missing two fingers and a thumb.
But because these folks choose to write, for whatever reason, the slight, possibly severe dysfunctions of their brains become apparent and often obvious to everyone--except to themselves. Such persons seem completely oblivious to their inability to write logically or intelligibly, yet they are somehow compelled to put finger to keyboard, so to speak. They write poems, short stories, even novels, and for all intents and purposes, act incapable of rising above varying degrees of incompetence.
Just for the record, it's important to point out that I perceive and appreciate a distinct difference between ignorance and stupidity--and mental impairment. My comments are aimed exclusively in the direction of those individuals for whom clear, rational thinking represents a handicap little different from a person who is unable to walk, or suffers some other physical infirmity through no fault of their own. Ignorance and stupidity are their own shortcomings and deserving of separate essays all to themselves.
As specifically regards those persons to whom this article is dedicated, it is highly unlikely that friends, relatives, and acquaintances will ever speak honestly when critically appraising the work of people who aren't quite there--with the rest of us. The consistent lack of truthfulness on the part of others, few of whom wish to risk hurting the feelings of anyone, further supports and encourages such people to forge ever onward. Ever unaware that their ramblings and gibberish might as well be written in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The same is probably true in the fields of art, music, and other disciplines. Thoughtful readers will, more often than not, consider these impaired folks as eccentric and nothing more. And rather than be judgmental of what are obvious mental debilities, such obtuse writers are more typically rewarded--much to the consternation of those like me who don't have time to play the roles of nurse and caretaker. Such compassionate forbearance on the part of my fellow writers has always struck me as a queer blind spot that afflicts otherwise healthy, successful people.
All of us at WdC who read the works of others on a regular basis, will, at one time or another, happen upon the people to whom I refer. The vast majority of those who consider themselves reasonably sane and rational, likely dismiss such persons as little more than poor writers, then simply move on to the next member's item of interest.
Before going further, allow me to state unequivocally that I would never reveal the identities of the people to whom my comments and observations are directed--for any number of appropriate reasons. Rather my focus is on the phenomenon itself. How a site like WdC, by its very nature, embraces folks from all walks, of all mentalities. Including the only slightly sane and in some cases, the seriously insane.
While I don't consider any of these people dangerous, either to themselves or to others (like how would we really know, and who am I to know?) their writings, if we can call them that, are so nonsensical and peppered with incoherent ramblings, as to leave no doubt that any kind of meaningful correspondence is, as a practical matter, virtually impossible.
More than once, I have encountered individuals who I would consider seriously, if not gravely depressed. Although the topic of depression itself, much like ignorance and stupidity, warrants its own essay, the topic is not exclusive to otherwise mentally healthy people. It may well be the case that depression lies at the heart of many if not most mentally disturbed persons. Unknown, however, is which condition antedates the other. Whether serious depression exacerbates mental illness or vice versa.
Worth mentioning a second time is the real kicker, as they say. Many of these same folks have been awarded large numbers of community recognitions. Only on WdC can a person who can hardly put more than three words together, enjoy dozens, even hundreds of awards, merit badges, and other icons of praise and recognition. This is largely a testimony, I believe, to the good-natured friendliness and spirit of helpfulness that permeates the WdC experience. For better or worse.
Because the lunatics in the group, albeit friendly and cheerful lunatics, tend to be more outspoken than many others, they are prone to dominate community affairs from time to time. Their uninhibited, unreserved, overly familiar forthrightness can be--and ought to be--viewed as a red flag of warning. Not always, but the wise person engages everyone with a degree of caution. Some more than others.
And once connected, it can be difficult to avoid hurting the feelings of these individuals, or discouraging them. Instead, we proceed to praise them and 'round and 'round the cycle goes.
So what's my particular problem with these folks? And why is this matter even worth debating or singling out? These are good questions and deserve honest responses.
Part of the answer lies in the fact that quasi-irrational people tend to be both emotional and intellectual vampires. They drain us of our creative energies and give nothing back. Relationships with these individuals are largely parasitic and, in most cases, our time and efforts are completely wasted on such persons.
Similar to sociopaths, these neurotic psychopaths often come across as warm, charming, and caring personalities. But don't be fooled. Such vamps possess any number of hidden agendas or other schemes known only to them. Even worse, understood only by them.
The second half of the equation is in realizing that WdC unavoidably contains its fair share of the kinds of people to whom I make reference. They can be found everywhere, in every genre, and as members of every group. Sometimes leading their own group.
I am certainly not suggesting that these are bad people and that they have no place at WdC. On the contrary, they have as much right to membership as anyone else. And I would never advocate anything which might attempt to change that situation. Ostracization based on a determination of one's sanity is, as it should be, entirely out of the question. I would be among the first to oppose such an absurd proposition.
I suppose that the main point worth emphasizing is to note the fact that we typically don't like to categorize our fellow writers in regard to how rational or insane they might be. At least not from a judgmental, let alone an unwarranted medical perspective. Who among us hasn't doubted their own sanity at one time or another? I know I have. Then again, I was also the sole judge in confirming my own saneness. Which is its own scary proposition.
No, my specific warning is aimed at maintaining a personal awareness, one that equips us with the ability to distinguish between the playfully erratic, and the real crazies in our midst. I strongly recommend that we shun those who we determine have crossed beyond a certain boundary that is not easily defined. The most we can do is make our best guess, take a chance here and there, but always keep a watchful eye out for that particular fringe element.
In closing, allow me to repeat that I refer to those for whom every day is Halloween. Whose tricks are likely harmless, possess no ill intent, and whose treats are composed of indecipherable drivel. Unless you're working to become a professional therapist, my recommendation is to give these people as wide a berth as possible.
The very fact that I bothered to write this exposé of sorts, may well place me among the very folks who I suggest we avoid. If so, so be it. I'm a big boy and can handle it. Friends have always had to be earned, and I see no reason to quit doing so now.
Over the past few months, I've been a bit more active than usual. This means I've come into contact with several more individuals who are members here, some of them very new. Interestingly enough, no fewer than a third of these folks belong in one or more of the mentally unbalanced categories addressed in this essay.
This is important because among the relatively small percentage of people I've met since joining WdC, a relatively large number are cuckoo-birds. Although I don't intend that description in a mean way. However, if we then extrapolate the percentages based upon a hypothetically much larger involvement on my part, the total number of mentally disturbed persons who populate WdC grows to a commensurately mind-blowing proportion.
I am now convinced, based on the foregoing calculations, that WdC--and sites like it--are magnetic draws that attract people who suffer from all manner of psychological problems, ranging in severity from mild to extreme. A much larger number, the majority of the membership, is obviously composed of totally rational, everyday kind of folks. And many of these are exceptionally bright and very talented.
Still missing from my experience here, is the irrational genius whose writing is classically thrilling, while their accompanying social skills are either nonexistent or incoherent. I met one woman, long ago, whose writing was enigmatic and interesting. Unfortunately she was utterly incapable of communicating in any comprehensible manner whatsoever. And that was the end of that.
It strikes me that there is an important message to be taken away from all of this. The huge number of mentally impaired people who congregate within WdC means something, but only if we're insightful enough to decipher that meaning. I have my own ideas, but they're only guesses. Safe refuges where disturbed individuals can reach out and take what pleases them, then leave all the rest behind.
To date, I've given over 450 reviews. To date, I've received less than 50 replies to those reviews. If we then calculate what percentage of 450 is 50, we get less than 12%. Not exactly a thrilling response. Abysmal in point of fact. But maybe some other, more subtle information is contained in those figures.
Maybe an inordinately large number of folks don't want pen pals or pals, period. They're here for reasons that are different from those of the rest of us. They don't care about names, genres, getting published, or learning to write better. The real truth is more likely that they themselves are unaware of why they're here.
Maybe the theme from the old TV show, Cheers, can leave us with the right feeling to close:
Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you've got;
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Be glad there's one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.